Photo by Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr CC

We often assume that the descendants of immigrants will be better off than their predecessors–an idea that sociologists refer to as “assimilation theory.” However, recent social science research contradicts this assumption. In their new work, sociologists Vilma Ortiz and Edward Telles demonstrate the importance of considering the role of race and racial inequality for immigrants and their descendants.

Using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey, Ortiz and Telles examine respondents’ income, education, and employment outcomes, as well as race and immigration status. They find that third-generation Mexican-Americans do not experience better economic and educational outcomes than second-generation Mexican-Americans. In fact, third-generation outcomes are very similar to second-generation outcomes. Further, third-generation Mexican-Americans experience significantly worse outcomes than Whites. Ortiz and Telles suggest that racial inequality — like unequal access to education and job market discrimination — contribute to Mexican-Americans’ disadvantage. In short, this research shows the importance of considering racial inequality when examining the relative success of immigrants and their descendants. 

Photo by jongorey, Flickr CC

The first rule of finding good real estate is location. Housing location is not simply a matter of preference, however. In the mid 20th century, discriminatory housing practices called redlining perpetuated racial segregation. During this time, the U.S. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) rated neighborhoods as desirable or undesirable based on their racial and ethnic makeup. White homeowners would often sell their homes below market value if their neighborhoods were at risk of being classified as undesirable, and racial minorities would then purchase these same homes at inflated prices, resulting in racial residential segregation. While redlining is now illegal, Blacks and Hispanics still tend to live in poorer housing and in less desirable neighborhoods than Whites. New research by Max Besbris and Jacob William Faber demonstrates the long legacy of redlining practices by examining how real estate agents play a role in perpetuating racial housing disparities. 

The authors use multiple methods in their study. First, they matched to the specific business addresses of licensed real estate agents in the state of New York to the median home values and other demographic information of their corresponding census tracts. Next, they interviewed 45 real estate agents about fair housing practices and where they do most of their work. To better capture real estate agents’ fair housing practices, the interviewers asked agents to respond to hypothetical situations where buyers and sellers expressed racist attitudes and asked for the racial composition of certain neighborhoods.

The census data shows that real estate agencies concentrate significantly more in neighborhoods with White or Asian majorities –averaging 12 and 20 real estate agents — rather than those with mostly Black or Latinx residents –averaging about three agents each. In interviews, several realtors argue this pattern does not reflect racial bias, but instead reflects the desire to earn more money by working in higher-priced areas. While none of the real estate agents explicitly believed segregation was right, many sought to please their clients and make sales by steering potential buyers to certain areas based on racial composition. The realtors describe these practices as responding to clients’ implicit and explicit preferences to be in neighborhoods with residents who resemble themselves racially and socioeconomically. In short, even though real estate agents may not have overtly racist attitudes, they use business practices that perpetuate structural racism to make a living and compete in the real estate business world.

Photo by takomabibelot, Flickr CC

Mass information is changing criminal justice surveillance. Police departments have begun to use massive digital datasets — referred to as “big data” — to reduce crime rates. However, these practices can prompt inadvertent social consequences, according to sociologist, Sarah Brayne. Brayne spent more than two years observing and interviewing members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) investigating how new technologies have intensified and transformed how police monitor large numbers of people.

One of the most shocking transformations in the LAPD data-systems is the dramatic increase in the number of people and institutions under surveillance. Their software investigates individuals with and without previous police contact. Based on police records, the software builds network diagrams of associated contacts. These include the suspect’s relatives and people affiliated with the addresses or phone numbers in the suspect’s register, regardless of their involvement in criminal activities. Databases also gather information not related to crime control, like from Twitter accounts and utility bills. This widens the net of surveillance to non-criminal spaces.  

Although technology plays a big part in decision-making, humans still play a vital role in surveillance. For example, when an analyst runs a search for a certain individual, they can see how many times other criminal justice employees have searched for that individual. The more searches, the higher the individual’s “criminal risk,” no matter what their criminal justice involvement is. Further, big data makes it possible to patrol “hot spots” of crime, based on predictive analyses of future crimes. However, some officers contest this form of control, by turning off their automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology.

Advocates of big data believe it can reduce human bias against racial minorities and increase police accountability. However, their faith rests on false the assumption that digital information is free of human bias. As these new technologies extend and intensify surveillance of both individuals and institutions, Brayne points out that some individuals — particularly those living in low-income, minority areas — will surely bear the burden of control more than others. 

Photo by hawkflight1066, Flickr CC

In a world of infoglut, it can be tempting to ignore most of what we see on the internet.  In order to gain attention, organizations must present their messages strategically. In a recent study, Christopher Bail, Taylor Brown, and Marcus Mann investigate how advocacy groups keep their audiences engaged on social media. The authors argue that rational arguments or emotional arguments alone are not enough. Instead, the key to successful messaging is the “cognitive-emotional current,” or switching back and forth between rational and emotional argument styles.

The researchers evaluated Facebook posts and comments for 200 autism and organ donation advocacy groups. After collecting posts and comments for over a year, the authors used text analysis to classify messaging either as rational or emotional. They also created their own application, “Find Your People,” which provided the organizations feedback about their messaging styles in exchange for information about the effectiveness of their outreach strategies. The authors measured effectiveness by recording how many unique users engaged with the organization’s content each day of the study. Based on this method, the advocacy groups in the study effectively used the cognitive-emotional current to keep their audiences engaged. After a series of emotionally-charged posts, the organizations would shift to more factual arguments, then back again.

While this alone is an intriguing finding, Bail, Brown, and Mann tell us there are larger benefits than understanding how organizations keep their audiences engaged. The methods the authors used in this study — analyzing social media posts and comments — give us insight into how humans communicate and connect in a world where much of our communication happens through the medium of technology.

Photo by Shane Adams, Flickr CC

For those involved in gang activity, parenthood can serve as a powerful turning point in parents’ lives. Yet, men and women may experience and react to parenthood differently. In their recent work, David Pyrooz, Jean Marie McGloin, and Scott H. Dekker examine whether parenthood reduces the likelihood of gang affiliation and criminal offending among male and female gang members. 

The authors’ analysis draws from the responses of 163 women and 466 men who self-identified as gang members in the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The authors tested whether parenthood for the first or second time reduces the likelihood of self-identification as a gang member, in addition to the likelihood of committing crimes, including theft, drug solicitation, and assault. The authors also examined male gang members’ involvement in their children’s lives based on their residence with or apart from their children. Finally, the authors controlled for cohabitation between parents, legal employment, and education to determine the specific effects of parenthood.

Prior to having children, female gang members had a lower likelihood of committing crime and fewer years spent as gang members than men overall. For first-time mothers, having a child reduced their likelihood of gang affiliation by 93 percent and their probability of offending by 47 percent. However, only male gang members who were first-time fathers and resided with their children showed significant reductions in gang affiliation and criminal offending. At the same time, these changes were far less likely to last in comparison to female gang members. Thus, this research demonstrates that while parenthood can be a powerful force for moving away from criminal identity and activity, its impacts are tempered by gender.

Photo by Emilio Labrador, Flickr CC

The Internet’s ability to disperse large amounts of information has greatly changed communication worldwide. Not only can beneficial information be transmitted quickly, but incorrect information can also spread rapidly. In new researchDeenesh Sohoni investigates how immigration numbers are manipulated by restrictionist groups in the United States — groups that advocate for reduced levels of legal immigration and crackdowns than undocumented immigration — to advance and legitimize their claims that immigration is a serious social problem. 

In 2011, Sohoni examined how 42 national-level restrictionist groups use their websites to frame the demographic impacts of immigration based on population projections. 2011 was a particularly important year for immigration in the United States, as the DREAM Act was reintroduced in the Senate, and a number of states followed Arizona’s SB1070, passing restrictive immigration policies. 

Of the groups that presented data, nearly half presented numbers that were either exaggerations of U.S. Census Bureau projections, used the higher end of the projections without noting it, or listed projections that could not be verified. In all cases, these numbers were treated as facts and the groups used them to argue further immigration would make whites a minority in the United States by mid-century. They also used these figures to argue for restricting “illegal” immigrants in the United States as a way to reduce crime, save public services, and keep jobs and government benefits for  “Americans.”

Sohoni’s research shows us that fake news is not a new phenomenon, and when we use the Internet, we must not only consider what information we’re getting, but also where it comes from.

Photo by Rob Brewer, Flickr CC

Scholars of crime pay extensive attention to how the physical characteristics of neighborhoods, like street lighting and security cameras, might help deter crime in high crime areas. A recent study by Paulo Avarte, Filipe Ortiz Falsete, Felipe Garcia Ribeiro, and André Portela Souza extends this research by assessing the effects of electricity access on violent crime rates in Brazil. Brazil is an important location for a focus on violence reduction, as Brazil — and the whole of Latin America — is home to some of the highest homicide rates in the world.  

The authors examine the impact of a federal program titled Luz Para Todos (LPT), or the Light for All program, which aimed to provide Brazilian households with access to electricity beginning in 2001. The LPT program provided electricity access to ten million households by 2009, focusing specifically on expanding access in impoverished rural areas. The authors use demographic census and mortality data from over 5,000 Brazilian municipalities in 2000 and 2010 to assess the relationship between electricity and homicides, accounting for other characteristics such as education levels, labor market characteristics, unemployment, and police size.

They find that the LPT program resulted in a discernible drop in homicide rates for rural areas, especially in the Northeast region of Brazil, an extremely impoverished area that had minimal electricity access prior to the implementation of the LPT program.This effect appears to be especially pronounced for homicides that occurred on rural roads and urban streets rather than in households and other closed spaces, suggesting that lights in public spaces help to deter violent behavior. 

Another explanation for reduced homicide rates may simply be that electricity access is a marker of numerous social benefits, like increased school enrollment and improved health outcomes. In other words, as quality of life improved in these areas, homicides decreased. Although the LPT program was not intended as a violence reduction policy, it clearly had significant impacts on homicide rates in areas of high need. Avarte and colleagues’ findings suggest that targeting electricity policies in areas that previously had little to no access to electricity can be an essential tool for crime control.

Photo by Jeremy Sternberg, Flick CC

The mark of a criminal conviction often has a devastating effect on future career opportunities. Black formerly incarcerated individuals have an even harder time finding employment due to employer discrimination. But jobs aren’t only important for economic security. Susila Gurusami’s recent study explores how state agents like probation officers, parole officers, and attorneys determine Black women’s commitment to rehabilitation by assessing if and how their employment is reliable, recognizable, and redemptive. Failure to meet these criteria could mean returning to jail or prison. In doing so, probation and parole officers reinforce “rehabilitation labor,” where formerly incarcerated women must prove that they have successfully transformed from ‘criminals’ to ‘workers.’

Gurusami spent 18 months volunteering as a social work intern with a local organization in a Los Angeles county that assisted formerly incarcerated women find employment, housing, and other rehabilitative needs. During her time there, she worked with 35 women — driving them to doctor’s appointments, guiding them through job applications, and accompanying them to court proceedings. She developed a close relationship with several women by conversing with them in their homes, meeting them at restaurants, accompanying them on daily walks, and speaking with them via phone and text messaging regularly.

The women in Gurusami’s study quickly learned that their probation and parole officers would not simply accept any form of employment. Rather, probation and parole officers emphasized that formerly incarcerated women must find work that state agents deem reliable, recognizable, and redemptive. Reliable employment meant long-term, full-time work. State agents criticized women who found seasonal positions or temp jobs. Some women were even discouraged from seeking education despite its long-term potential to generate greater income.  Those who attempted to earn GEDs, college degrees, or attend trade school were often discouraged by parole and probation officers who did not recognize education as a legitimate means to finding employment. 

Furthermore, parole and probation officers did not recognize traditionally female-dominated forms of work, like braiding hair or assisting with care of relatives, that did not take place in conventional workplace settings as valid employment. Lastly, state agents also tended to push women towards redemptive work — work that they viewed as beneficial to the community, such as counseling and social work. Women who failed to find employment that met these criteria were threatened with prison. While employment is vital to a successful future after incarceration, limiting opportunities for both work and education and forcing Black women to partake in rehabilitation labor reinforces notions that Black women’s actions are in need of constant control and discipline by the state.

Photo by Bootsendra, Flickr CC

Many Americans share strong beliefs in the importance of education, ambition, and hard work — what many refer to as “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” New research by He Xian and Jeremy Reynolds investigates whether these beliefs are unique to western countries, like the United States. Xian and Reynolds chose China to compare to the United States since both countries have long, yet unique, histories of meritocracy.

The authors’ analysis draws on data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and its associated country-specific surveys from 2009. Respondents were asked a series of questions about what is needed to “get ahead” in their societies. The analysis separated meritocratic elements — those that were based on individual efforts, like hard work or education — from non-meritocratic elements — those that were not based on individual efforts, like parental education or social ties to powerful people.

Both Chinese and Americans strongly believe that meritocratic elements are important for success. However, Chinese believed more than Americans that non-meritocratic elements are also necessary. Nearly twice as many Chinese agreed that having well-educated parents and “knowing the right people” are important for getting ahead. While a belief in bootstraps is not unique to Americans, other meritocratic nations may be more likely to recognize hard work can’t do it all.

Surely executives have binders full of women who'd make great C-suite occupants. Mike Licht, Flickr CC.
Surely executives have binders full of women who’d make great C-suite occupants. Mike Licht, Flickr CC.

Gender segregation at work is one of the biggest contributors to the wage gap between women and men–in 2014, women cashed in at about 79 cents per men’s dollar. Much of the difference is explained by the fact that women overwhelmingly dominate “pink-collar jobs” that generally pay less, like teaching, nursing, and waitressing, and men dominate in higher-paying positions, like physicians, sales directors, and CEOs. However, even when men and women start in the same field, men are much more likely to advance. For instance, in June, The Washington Post reported that the number of Fortune 500 companies led by women was at an all-time high: 5%. (Less heralded? That women make up 45% of the labor force in these companies.)

While the number is small, clearly some women do make it to the top. So, when women are employed in upper level positions, what happens to women left near the bottom?

Researchers Stainback, Kleiner, and Skaggs studied the association between women in leadership positions and gender segregation in lower-level positions across 86 Fortune 1000 firms in Texas. Using statistical models, they tested the level of gender segregation across eight non-managerial occupational categories based on the percentage of women in managerial and executive positions. Overall, the researchers found that having more women in leadership positions is associated with less gender segregation in lower level jobs. However, this relationship gets much smaller when the percentage of women on corporate boards approaches 20%.

Since none of the firms actually has women as 20% of its corporate board, their finding is telling of the gross inequality between men’s and women’s representation in executive positions. Put differently, because corporate board membership hasn’t surpassed 20% female, the authors cannot make any conclusions about what would happen if it did.

Still, the association between more women at the top and less gender segregation below leads the authors to conclude that women who make it to the top can–and do–act as “agents of change” across organizations.